Saturday, January 12, 2013

Deepening our Awareness of God

Sermon preached by Hawley Todd, TSSF, at the Grace Church Celebration of Wholeness and Healing on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

The Collect for the Day:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17,21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The Sermon:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Welcome to Grace Church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is the time when the church celebrates the showing forth or the manifestation of the presence of God on Earth.

When you think of Epiphany, who here associates it with the coming of the wise men and the giving of the gifts to the newborn king? (Please raise your hands)

When you think of Epiphany, how many think of the reading we had from Luke today about the baptism of Jesus by John? (Same)

I normally associate Epiphany with the wise men. However, the early Christian Church associated it with both.

Epiphany was primarily about showing God revealed on earth, God being made present on earth. Another name for Epiphany is Theophany. So this is the season of humankind experiencing the presence of God in our midst.

As an interesting side note, Western Christianity associates the wise men with Epiphany and Eastern Christianity stresses the Baptism.

What I want us to look at today is how we can become more intentional about creating opportunities for “epiphanies” in our lives in the here and now.

When Bishop Breidenthal was here on Dec. 23, he baptized nine new Christians. That day was incredible and wonderful beyond a doubt. nine new Christians in one morning! Later on that day, Bishop Breidenthal met with the Mission Council. One topic emerged out of that meeting that really caught my attention. And that was a desire on many peoples’ parts to deepen their spirituality. Ken Lyon commented about developing our Mary sides as well as the well-developed Marthas in our midst.

So how does one deepen one’s spiritual life? There is no one size fits all answer to that question. However I would like to begin a dialogue with you about it.

Having worked with individuals as a spiritual director for over 30 years, I would like to stress first the importance of prayer. And by prayer, I do not mean heaping up words and phrases directed at God. Prayer is whatever occurs when a person and God connect. It is  the intentional focusing of our awareness in communion with God. It often includes communication. And in all good communication, it is two way. There is listening and speaking. So making time and space in our lives for prayer is essential.

My first suggestion for any one desiring to deepen one’s relationship with God is to schedule a time every day for prayer. For most of us, that is often best first thing in the morning or before going to bed. Or perhaps even both!

My second suggestion is to consider where and how you have encountered God in the past. For most Christians, it would fall into one of four quadrants. These are church/sacraments/worship, study/scripture, service, and or creation.

  • Many young adults discover the reality of God by doing outreach, by caring for others. That is service.
  • Other folks encounter God in the “aha moments” of studying the Bible, or classes like Ken’s Sunday Bible Study or Education for Ministry.
  • Others love to worship;
  • And still others discover God in holding a puppy or sitting next to the ocean.

So where have you encountered God?

Make time for those places in your life. Be like Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus – and make time and space for an epiphany to occur. Give God an opportunity to pour Grace into your life.

When the heavens open, will you notice? Or will you be so preoccupied with other things that you won’t even notice?

The Buddhists suggest a form of meditation called calming or peacefulness “prayer”. They think the average person is so busy with our minds racing from one thing to the next and we are so pre-occupied with our “stuff’ that we miss life altogether.

Let me teach you a simple form of prayer this morning that combines Buddhist calming prayer with a prayer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s actually do it right now.

Get as comfortable as you can in our nice wood pews. Have both feet squarely on the ground. Relax. Let go of tension and any need to get this prayer right. Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in deeply. Release it. Breathe in again. (In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as the Ruach – the breathe of God. The same breathe God used to breathe life into each one of us.) I want you to take several more deep breaths. This time imagine each breathe to be the Ruach of God, the Holy Spirit entering deep within you. Breathe in the Holy Spirit. Fill your lungs and body with the presence of God. Breathe out all that holds you from being the person God created you to be. Breathe in the Holy Spirit. Do that several more times. Now I want you to focus your awareness on your breathe. Let go of all other thoughts. And when they arise, simply come back to watching your breathe. Watch your breathe as it enters your nose. Pay attention as the Holy Spirit, your breathe, enters and leaves your nostrils. Continue to pray, simply watching and paying attention to the air as it enters and leaves your being.

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